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Meet Debbie, the rising London soul singer who’s all about ‘truth music’

Debbie talks to Rolling Stone UK about signing to 0207 Def Jam, writing music for Stormzy’s new album, and her hopes for her own debut full-length

By Hollie Geraghty

Debbie (Picture: Courtesy of 0207 Def Jam)

Debbie likes to describe herself as a soul singer. It’s not so much because she sees herself within that genre, but because that’s where her music comes from.

“What I want to stand for is truth music and making music that comes from the soul,” the rising 23-year-old artist explains. Her music is full of sincere reflections on life and love, but the Londoner usually doesn’t even know what she’s going to write about when she enters the studio. “It’s about living and then creating, because you can’t create unless you live,” she says. “As soon as I’ve done my living, then I’ve got something to write about.”

Having grown up singing her whole life, inspired by fellow “truth music” artists like Lauryn Hill and Bob Marley, it wasn’t until Debbie studied music technology at sixth form that she started performing publicly. After choosing a university degree in finance, she quickly realised that she wanted to pursue music full-time. She briefly dabbled in theatre while unsuccessfully searching for paid singing jobs, while all the time keeping busy at open mic nights and grassroots showcases. At one of these evenings, she met her would-be manager, who helped her sign to the UK-centric 0207 Def Jam label last year.

Now, Debbie’s small but mighty collection of satin R&B songs have found fans in John Legend and Mahalia. She’s even co-written with labelmate Stormzy on his forthcoming new album, This is What I Mean, out next month. Speaking to Rolling Stone UK over Zoom, Debbie recalled a year of major “pinch me” moments — including recording her debut TV performance, a performance of recent single ‘Cherry Wine’ for Later… with Jools Holland, which aired this weekend — with a warm, cheek-to-cheek smile.

How did you first get into music and discover your voice?

Debbie: I’ve always sung. My mum used to say I sung from the womb. But singing in public, that really happened in my sixth form. I studied music technology because economics was taken up, and it just kind of sailed from there. I feel like finding my voice is just going to be a continuous journey. At every stage that I enter into in my adult life, I’m gonna change — and so will my voice, and so will what I sing about.

At what point did you realise you wanted to make music your career path?

Debbie: It was really my first year of uni. I still completed my degree, but in my first year I was like, ‘This degree is definitely a back-up plan’. I think it was because I had gone from studying music technology at sixth form for two years, and being able to go into a studio whenever I wanted to create, to suddenly being completely shut off from that world and just studying finance and not having an outlet to let the creativity flow. In the first year, I was like, ‘This isn’t the way. I need to find something to get that creative itch.’

What has life been like since you released your debut single ‘Is This Real Love’ in November last year?

Debbie: The response has been crazy, I can’t lie. I really wasn’t expecting it. Because it was just a song I made in my bedroom. I know that sounds so cheesy, but I really just wrote a song in my bedroom in lockdown, and then suddenly, it’s got all this love and attention. It’s amazing to see. I feel very blessed.

“I’ve always sung. My mum used to say I sung from the womb”

— Debbie

How did it feel to be signed to 0207 Def Jam, a relatively new label imprint with a focus on diversity and nurturing Black talent?

Debbie: Before I met 0207 Def Jam I was very much like, ‘I want to be an independent artist. I don’t want to succumb to the labels.’ But meeting them, it just felt very right. And it was less about having the name of Def Jam and more about the people that were in there — just really genuine people that loved music that I just really connected to. The feeling I got was peace, so I was like, ‘Yep! This is the one for me.’ And I felt really good about it, no doubts, and just a very confirmed brightness.

And you’re also labelmates with Stormzy. Have you been able to work together much yet?

Debbie: I have been able to work with him. I’ve co-written tracks for the [new] record, which is very exciting. It’s been very amazing, very exciting, and very inspiring. He’s a very cool dude.

How does it feel to be a part of such an anticipated new album?

Debbie: It still hasn’t quite sunk in! I keep telling myself, when everything comes out, when his whole album comes out, I feel like a year after that, that’s when I’ll be like, ‘Oh, I actually did that!’ But yeah, it’s really sick.

Debbie (Picture: Courtesy of 0207 Def Jam)

You’ve also opened for both John Legend and Lucky Daye this year. What were those experiences like?

Debbie: The John Legend experience, it was very much like a pinch me moment. I think Somerset House is such an amazing place to perform in. It was warm back then, so you just see everyone having a good time. You’ve got amazing views, amazing opportunities, and I just felt very blessed in that moment. 

For Lucky Daye, that was again quite an experience. I still can’t believe it. I think that the point it hit me was when I was walking into O2 Shepherd’s Bush. I always pass there, and I’m like, ‘Imagine being able to perform there!’ And then, all of a sudden, you are performing there! It was another pinch me moment.

You’ve also had support from Mahalia recently. Has she been able to offer you any advice or guidance?

Debbie: Mahalia has this amazing platform for underground artists called Mahalia Presents. I think that in itself is all the help that young artists like me, an artist starting from the ground up, needs at this stage. It was amazing to see other artists who are in the same situation as you, as well as have Mahalia praise you, as well as have supporters of music be there. It was just a collaboration of love. She’s definitely helped to boost the confidence.

“‘Cherry Wine’ is about my social anxiety. After lockdown happened, meeting people for the first time, I just feel extremely awkward and I overthink everything”

What inspired your recent single ‘Cherry Wine’?

Debbie: ‘Cherry Wine’ is about my social anxiety. I don’t think I had it until lockdown. After lockdown happened, whenever I go into events or clubs or bars or anything — if it’s with my girls I’m fine, but meeting people for the first time, I just feel extremely awkward and I overthink everything. So I normally need a glass of something; sometimes wine, sometimes prosecco. That’s what it’s about, just needing a drink to ease the nerves a little bit.

Have you got anything else coming up soon that you’re excited about?

Debbie: I have a new single coming out. I also have the Stormzy project which is really cool to be a part of. More shows — I’m opening up for Maverick Sabre, which is really exciting because I love him, and I’m opening up for Ray BLK. Just shows and little projects here and there.

Have you started exploring ideas for your debut album yet?

Debbie: I can’t speak specifically about the ideas that I’ve come up with, because they’re very like, in my head, and they’re festering. But I do know that I want it to be truthful, whatever I do, because I feel like all my music so far and what I want to stand for is truth music, and making music that comes from the soul. So whatever I do, it should be a collection of truth.